Jefferson News Tribune Opinion: Intensify prevention of youth suicide

State legislation to increase awareness and prevention of youth suicide has won our support.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, has filed a bill with two components.

• One would require school districts to adopt a policy regarding youth suicide by July 1, 2017. School districts could adopt or modify a model policy the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would be required to develop by July 1, 2016.

• Teachers may elect to take up to two hours of training regarding youth suicide and count those hours toward professional development required for state certification.

We questioned whether the state law might: duplicate district policies; usurp parental responsibilities; or erode teaching by saddling educators with more social service responsibilities?

Any reservations were allayed by conversations with both the senator and Gretchen Guitard, assistant superintendent for staff services at the Jefferson City Public Schools.

Schupp said her bill “puts no requirements on teachers. This bill simply adds youth suicide prevention and awareness training to the list of options that educators can choose from when picking which professional development courses to take …”

Guitard endorsed that provision that permits teachers to earn professional development credit for suicide awareness training.

Regarding the policy provision, the senator explained: “These kind of schools policies are already required by Missouri statute for health issues including allergy prevention (167.208 RSMo), diabetes prevention (167.803 RSMo) and youth sports brain injury prevention (167.765 RSMo).”

Guitard said although district educators — at least one per building — have attended training on the issue at the University of Missouri and shared their knowledge through professional development workshops, the district has no specific policy regarding youth suicide and awareness.

She added: “It’s always useful to have a well-researched model” that can be tailored to district needs.

In addition to teaching training on the warning signs, Guitard said counselors also have increased their roles, focusing on social and behavioral concerns in addition to academics.

The senator’s proposal is not legislation in search of a problem. Schupp cited Missouri Institute on Mental Health data showing suicide is the third leading cause of death for Missouri children ages 10-24. Missouri ranks 20th nationally for the number of youth suicides, which totaled 120 in 2012.

Prevention is possible when the warning signs of suicide are observed. It doesn’t matter whether the observer is a parent, teacher, counselor, fellow student or someone else.

Schupp’s bill doesn’t impose an added burden on local districts. Quite the contrary, it may help the district formulate potential life-saving policies.

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